Do Players Need to Like Each Other

A mention of the incomparable Rocky yesterday had me glancing through some of his old posts. The current mood at Arsenal Football Club seems to one of bonding and happiness and is part of the reason for the optimism surrounding the Club going into the new season. Esprit de corps – is it necessary for a successful season? Do players have to play for each other, above and beyond their desire to play for themselves? What do you think; do you agree with Rocky? 

Bear with me… this is, indeed, a Post about the current Arsenal team (it will get there eventually).

Way back in the early 1990s an ex Arsenal lad who had moved to pastures new was tearing up the Premier League, scoring goals for fun.

I refer to one Andrew Cole, who had two great seasons at Newcastle from 1993 to 1995.

Such was his form and prowess at the Barcodes that he earned an England call-up under Terry Venables. He made his debut as a late substitute against Uruguay – replacing a certain Mr Edward Sheringham. As Sheringham left the pitch he offered nary a glance towards the debuant; not a handshake; nor even a quick word of encouragement, far less a pat on the back. He just acted as if Cole did not exist.

The perceived insult wounded the tender soul of young Andy and he vowed never to forget it.

Fast forward a year or so and Cole signed for Manchester United where, playing alongside Eric Cantona, he continued to thrive.

But in football, as in life, fate often has a way of putting chewing gum on your bus seat and, sure enough, in 1997 Eric Cantona left United and they replaced him with Mr Edward Sheringham.

As Cole put it some years later: “In the summer of 1997, after Eric Cantona left Manchester United, Sheringham arrived. We played together for years. We scored a lot of goals. I never spoke a single word to him.”

And during that period United were certainly successful.

So does it mean that relationships between players don’t matter? That team mates can hate each other with the sort of loathing that a Totteringham fan has for bathwater?

Well, there are certainly other examples beyond Cole and Sheringham (who, let’s not forget, went to Man United but was still a runt). The Bayern Munich and Germany midfielders Lothar Matthaus and Stefan Effenberg would each have happily seen the other fed slowly into a wood chipper; and in the days of the Wimbledon Crazy Gang (younger readers, be thankful you don’t know what I’m talking about) John “Fash the Bash” Fashanu shared mutual antipathy with Lawrie Sanchez.

In fact it got so bad that Fashanu and Sanchez decided to “sort it out” during a training session. As a black belt in karate, Fashanu was expecting to teach Sanchez a lesson – but I remember Tony Adams once described Sanchez as the hardest man in football (a bit like the Pope describing someone as the holiest person on earth).

Fash’s memoirs take up the story: “Sanch gave me a shot and, give him credit, it wasn’t a bad shot. But I thought, don’t hit Sanch, don’t mark his face, and my mind went back to when Muhammed Ali fought against the martial artist in New York, and the martial artist just kicked the back of his legs until it broke the tissues in his calves and he submitted. So I thought I’d teach Sanch a lesson and gave a sweep of the legs, but Sanch has calves like most people have thighs and he didn’t move. So I gave him another couple, but Sanch came back at me. So I thought, I’m gonna take this guy out, and I hit him with one of the best shots I’d been training with – BAM! Take that, Sanch! – right in the solar plexus, a shot that would supposedly knock a horse down. And still he stood there. Then Terry Burton came over to break us up.”

Happy days.

Anyway, this question of whether it’s better for players to like their team mates occurred to me while watching our game against Liverpool on Saturday.

You will remember the chance that Luis Suarez had towards the end of the match, as Liverpool were struggling to fight their way back from the firm slapping-down which we had been administering.

Suarez profited from a mistake by the BFG and bore down on goal from Liverpool’s left side. He tried a shot which went across the face of goal and wide, not troubling Szczesny. Daniel Sturridge had been racing into the right hand side of the box and felt that Suarez should have passed to him rather than shooting. Whether or not Suarez should have passed is neither here nor there. What happened next was fascinating: Sturridge threw his arms out and back, like a child trying to be a superhero; he jutted out his chin, his eyes bulged and he donned the time-honoured countenance of the mortally outraged (think Stephen Fry being told that – no thanks – no-one was interested in his latest anecdote).

All this was directed at his team mate, Suarez. It was not a brief, understandable moment of frustration of the kind any player can be prone to: Sturridge held this tortured pose for many long seconds. His suffering began to take on Jesus-like dimensions. Poor old Suarez glanced his way but chose not to engage.

At the time I thought: “these are two players who don’t like each other: two selfish goal-grabbers who are in this only for personal glory.”  If you feel your colleague should have passed, you talk about it later – you don’t try to humiliate him in front of millions

And despite the examples mentioned above – of bitter feuds festering in successful teams – it cannot, as a general rule, be good to have disharmony within a team.

Look at Arsenal in recent years.

There is no question that we’ve had some troublesome individuals in the dressing room: Samir Nasri, who could probably make the Dalai Lama swear; Emmanuel “all about me” Adebayor; William “Slightly Deranged” Gallas.

And one of the factors in our gradual improvement has been the clearing out of the disputatious types and the forging of strong bonds between the players who remain.

There seems to be a good, mutually supportive vibe among the YBCs (the Young British Core), but experienced, level-headed foreigners like Arteta, Giroud and Mertesacker have also clearly been instrumental in creating unity and fellow-purpose.

It may be easier to say during the sort of successful period we are currently enjoying, but I really feel our squad of players like each other and are playing for each other rather than for their next big money move elsewhere. No-one exemplifies this selflessness better than Olivier Giroud, who seems as happy when he assists as when he scores.

So, to sum up, Sturridge and Suarez will continue to score goals, but football success is often down to fine margins – and not being united on the field is one of those things that can have a slight, but significant, negative impact.

Over the course of the season I would back our Harmonious Heroes to do better than ‘Pool’s Fractious Forwards. We will see.

Written by RockyLives


11 Responses to Do Players Need to Like Each Other

  1. chas says:

    I simply love reading Rocky’s writing. It makes me happy.

    The Invincibles squad seemed to unite behind the common cause in a way which seems inconceivable these days. Socially they were very strong and on the pitch they always seemed to project a ‘stick together at all costs’ attitude.

    Liking each other and the fear of not wanting to let down teammates you respect should go hand in hand, but do they?

    I’ll stop waffling. 🙂

    Cheers, Rocky.

  2. chas says:

  3. RA says:

    Just who is this Rocky personage?

    This may sound a little weird – or maybe even a lot weird – but when I first ‘found’ AA back in the day, I was drawn to it by the quality of The Rock’s prose/phraseology/humour, and fell in love with it (in a very manly way, of course) and later found, from comments made in response to his Posts, that other bloggers were enriched and enlivened in much the same way as I was.

    There were also many other great writers/authors such as 26 May, the late DanDan and Charybdis, for example, who also brought Posts with different styles with distinctly knowledgeable ‘angles’ to the wonderful Arsenal debates.

    Sadly, 90% of those good folk, including Rocky, are long gone, (one or two literally) having passed through their ‘blogger phase’ and have gone on to earn a living, or meld into blogdom via other blogsites, where I occasionally come across them.

    I miss them all – so thank you Chas for resurrecting an excellent Rocky Post that I enjoyed then, and still did when I re-read it today.

    [Even if we are the only two to do so!] 😀

  4. Eddie says:

    what a great post, timeless classic
    Thank you Rocky, thank you chas

    I think Fergie loved introducing a discord in the team, making players more competitive and fighting for their place. I quite like that approach and favor it over lovey-lovey, happy clappy mob. Familiarity breeds contempt and players should be professional, slightly on edge, never too relaxed.

    I think I will read the post again, it was that good

  5. fred1266 says:

    Hearing chamber of to Fulham what you guys think about that

  6. LB says:

    Sadly it is too easy to forget how good those post were, it is only when they are reposted and reread that the brilliance comes flooding back.
    I am just a jealous guy as a song once went.

  7. Eddie says:

    perhaps on loan fred, he’ll come back

  8. Big Raddy says:

    Rocky was different class but to be fair to other post writers the man was/is a professional script writer.. I miss his humour and creativity,

    Thanks can for finding this gem.

    Does social harmony make for a better team? We certainly looked better once Sanchez left, fine footballer but hardly a team player.

  9. RC78 says:

    Great post

    I think that you need overall good team spirit and team cohesion to have a successful season, meaning that you are ready to fight for and support each other on the pitch. Then if the players like each other it is a big plus.

    I look at my winning World Cup Team (yes yes I am bragging 🙂 ) and for sure the players got along well but the most impressive thing was that they really fought for each other on the pitch.

    In our squad, we need leaders, clowns, calm ones and followers.

    Who will lead our squad this year? Will it be the new signings Sokratis or the long time arsenal players like Ramsey or the ones that have made a place for themselves like Xhaka?

    In any case – what we need is to score one more goal than the opponent so if we do this, the rest is irrelevant 🙂

  10. RC78 says:

    The end of the Real Madrid era? Lopetegui took a really tough job and was sacked from the national squad to take over a ticking bomb!

    – Ronaldo left
    – Kovacic wants out
    – Modric and Marcelo may be able to force a move out as well

    – Perez wants to invest in the future rather than on confirmed stars (except maybe one marquee signings)

    and yet the first XI could still look strong if they lose Modric:

    Courtois – Carvalaj, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo – Kross, Casemiro – Bale, Isco, Asensio – Benzema

    But the bench is then looking thin…so is it the end of RM’s dominance in Europe

  11. chas says:


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